It might seem curious timing for the Guardian to release the third and final set of their Shakespeare solos a good couple of weeks after the hullabaloo of #Shakespeare400 but if you look at the television schedules, you do see the attempts not to overload people with content. The second iteration of The Hollow Crown only starts this weekend and Russell T Davies’ take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream won’t be with us until the end of the month.
Still, these final five videos feel a little bereft of inspiration for me, featuring as they do two excerpts from the same play (The Merchant of Venice) and two actresses currently starring in the same play (The Maids). One of those, Zawe Ashton, does give us one of the highlights of the entire series with a beautifully mournful take on Jacques’ Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It but it’s hard not to wish that some of the casting choices had been equally as inventive.
We do get Paterson Joseph’s Shylock, with murmurs of a production recasting him as an Ethiopian Jew, full of charismatic reasonableness. But Laura Carmichael’s quality of mercy as Portia doesn’t do anything too special despite being well spoken; likewise Damian Lewis’ “friends, Romans, countrymen” leaving me rather unstirred. It’s left to Riz Ahmed to spark up interest as a brusque Edmund from King Lear, a rare example of director Dan Susman truly pushing the envelope.